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H.W. Brands Education. (2012) 2012 Texas Book Festival H.W. Brands, 'The Man Who Saved The Union Ulysses Grant in War and Peace.'

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  CSPAN    Book TV    H.W. Brands  Education.  (2012) 2012 Texas Book Festival H.W.  
   Brands, 'The Man Who Saved The Union Ulysses Grant in War...  

    November 24, 2012
    4:15 - 5:00am EST  

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some buddies waving their hands in the back. could you wave your hand?
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thank you very much. welcome to this session of the texas book festival with h. w. brandis. my name is steve hair again. i will be doing a q&a with bill. 15 minutes after the session phil will be signing books in the book signing campus between the tenth and eleventh down the street. please patronized the book signing tent in the bookstore, and pleas by the the book which won't be a problem. this is the book, "the man who saved the union," ulysses grant and war and peace. if you by this book, proceeds will go to support texas libraries and literacy. it is a great book to read and
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to find a word because. h. w. brands is the dixon allan anderson centennial prof. of history in austin. his focus has been for many years on american history and politics and his biographies and histories include a number of tremendous books. this is the just the most recent. also traitor to his class about franklin roosevelt, biography of andrew jackson called andrew jackson. the age of gold about the gold rush in the 1840s. the first american, about benjamin franklin and tea are about theodore roosevelt. together these books comprise not haphazardly but purposefully a history of the united states for the last 200 or so years. a number of these books have been best sellers.
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traitor to his class and the first american were both finalists for the pulitzer prize and you can see h. w. brands on tv all the time if you go to the history channel or turn on the tv, there he is. this book is -- i will hold this up again so you can see and recognize it easily at the book signing tend, it is a tremendous biography of ulysses grant filled with stuffed i certainly never knew and was delighted to find out. it is very authoritatively and readable. before we get to grant himself i wanted to ask bill a broad question about biography. here at the book festival there are a number of biographers. i have read several of these already, robert caro's latest volume in his massive history, biography of lyndon johnson.
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janet reed's biography leonard cohen, all these people at the book festival among others. david maraniss is here with a book about obama. i was curious because all these books are so different in terms of authors's approaches to subject matter, with the subject is dead or alive, what kind of access the biographer has to be subject to. i am curious, do you have a philosophy having written many biographies of what exactly a biography should be and what it should do? >> thanks for the question and for all of you coming out. sunday morning is sometimes a chore. i am gratified so many of you are here. the question of biography and what i see it to be. i am trained as a historian so i tend to look at biographies which, regardless of how they
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are written to some extent all comprise the life and times of your subject. i tend to include more times than some other biographers do. in my experience and observation, biographers come to their subjects from one of two directions. they are either historians like me or journalists. sometimes novelist's find their way in, but the folks who come from the direction of history, to borrow an image from filmmaking, tend to broaden the focus on their character. you see the character but you also see more of the background and the character is at least in part a vehicle for telling the story of the character's time. journalists and others from the non history direction tend to have a tighter focus. they're subject fills up more of the frame all the time.
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beyond that's we could get into the question of what do you make of life and how do you reconstruct the wives of people, in some cases dead-end in some cases still living? and that has to do with one's view of human nature and i will confess in some of the books i have taken on, i was concerned, whether i was qualified to write about the person i was writing about. there is the whole question of how can you write a bunch of pages about somebody you never met, about someone whose voice you never heard. you don't know how tall they were, you don't know what impression they made when they walked into a room. you don't know some very basic stuff that a person who just encounter your subject for 15
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seconds in life new. the other thing was there are certain life experiences that we all share. we were all children at one time and so you can imagine if you're subject, japan benjamin franklin in colonial boston, you can imagine what that might have been like. when i was writing about franklinite realize a large part of the story was going to consist of franklin growing old because he became america's emissary to france during the american revolution at the age of 70. i started writing about franklin when i was around 40 and i really wondered whether i was going to be able to understand what it was like to grow old and infirm which was a large part of a franklin story. partly for this reason, i decided, and this is carried through in my other book, i
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decided to tell my stories, i try to relate the lives of my characters as much as possible through the perceptions, the words of people who knew them. my books tend to have more eyewitness stuff than some others. if i have a choice between writing a scene in my own words and writing a scene in the words of somebody who was mayor, i will tend toward the person who was there. that conveys a certain authenticity and it relieves me of the burden really of sort of providing the authority because the question anyone should have is how does the author know what he is telling me. if i can make it very clear, it is not me that is telling you this. the room looked like this, benjamin franklin seemed like this to somebody who was actually there.
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that is a roundabout answer to your question. >> let's get directly to ulysses grant. the book is called "the man who saved the union," ulysses grant and war and peace. two questions about this title. what happened to the s in ulysses grant? [welker]] it is not there? >> no. >> what are you going to do with editors? i will tell you the answer. the answer is the pass was an artifact. wasn't born ulysses s. grant. he was born high room simpson grant and -- he was born hiram ulysses grant and always went by his middle name. i have sympathy of people who go by our middle names. his birth name was not ulysses s. grant.
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he eventually became known as ulysses s. grant when he became president but he signed things u.s. grand. i don't know if there is a memory of my own childhood that grew me to grant but in the neighborhood i grew up in, in portland, ore. there was a public park and the sign on the public park was u.s. grant park. for the longest time i thought this was the federally owned park granted to the city for some reason or other. that is part of the answer. the other answer is i had a hard time convincing the people who designed the dust jacket to get all the words on there that are already on their. the man who -- "the man who saved the union," ulysses grant, the man who saved the union war and peace is a lot of words and especially with a photograph. i didn't want to push things. one last thing.
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ulysses grant sort of rolls off the tongue. add an s, ulysses s. grant, it really wasn't an oversight. it was by design. >> a more substantive question about the title. it is called "the man who saved the union". i get that, he was the general who turned the tide of the civil war, saving the union but what i didn't know until i read the book, the work of saving the union went on much beyond the civil war for him as president. he saved the union twice, one could argue. is that correct or am i just making this up? >> you are not supposed to say that with such a quizzical tone. you are supposed to say and i was convinced upon reading it that he did save the union twice. since you said it could be argued it is incumbent upon me
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to argue that as i do in the book. there are many people who might take issue with grand saving the union during the civil war. didn't lincoln do that? he did. i am not going to say grant was the only person who saved the union but he was the commanding general of the army's that put lincoln's policies into effect and he was the general who accepted the surrender of the army of northern virginia that ended of award. if anybody won of the war on the battlefield, if you could say that any one person did and of course you can't but one thing we do in history is generalized. we simplified because history, reality is too complicated to get our heads around if we deal with it in its full complexity. grant saved the union during those civil war and i do contend that grant saved the union during reconstruction as well.
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one of the reasons i decided to write about grant was i wanted to write about someone who was central to the civil war but i also wanted to write about someone who was deeply involved in reconstruction. how many of you are you tea alums. how many of you studied history at the university? it is required by the state would just later. those who didn't raise your hand you better check that diploma to see if it is valid. the reason i mention this is against my better judgment, i have only been teaching -- i only arrived in 1981. the two semester american history course is divided in 1865 which first of all is logistically impossible these days. the decision to divide it at that point was made in 1915 at
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which time there was a lot less of 1865 to the present than there is now. the second problem is more conceptual. it really does lend to the story of the civil war because the civil war ended formally in april of 1865 but the divisiveness, the issues that gave rise to the civil war did not disappear. the union fell apart in pieces starting in the 1850s, formal secession began at the end of 1860 and there was a four-1/2 year period in which the union was sundered and it was put back together on the battlefields but since vietnam we have become aware that you win wars at least in large part by winning the hearts and minds of those people
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you are contesting against. i can guarantee you that 1860's 5 the hearts and minds of the south were not with the union. one of the points i make in the book is that the civil war was the easy part or at least it was a straightforward part. war makes things very clear. one of the major emotional themes in the book is how war did make things clear for people like ulysses grant who before the war simply could not get his act together in civilian life. civilian life was more confusing. there were many more considerations one had to take account of. there were all sorts of standards of success. were you doing well? various influences impinge on your life. once the war began for grand things got really clear. he understood this was what the
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objective was and this was how to get there. discovered in himself something he didn't have any idea of and no one else did either. he had a genius for modern war. i could elaborate on that little more but there's a great deal in the book. the important point here is war made everything straight forward. we have the army and you have your army. we bang it out and we see who wins. on this question of secession grant was not constitutional lawyer. he thought the south had the inferior argument over whether secession was legal but he shared something with lincoln and that was even if the session was unconstitutional they both acknowledge a right of revolution. this was the right the american colonies exercised but the deal of revolution isn't based on the inalienable right to life,
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liberty and pursuit of happiness and self-government but the essence of revolution is you have to win. nobody hands you victory in revolution. that is what the war was about but then the war ends and the south has to be reintegrated into the union. but there are all these unreconstructed confederates who still believed they had the better part of the argument and the white race should be supreme in the south, who resent entirely the fact that abolition was imposed on the south but whereas during the civil war they didn't have a vote, didn't have a say and the national government, all of a sudden they do. during war, the rules of democracy were suspended. democracy is based on majority rule. once the war ends democracy kicks back in and so the south has to be reintegrated politically and when grant was
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nominated for president in 1868 grant was first of all nominee by acclamation of the republican party. grant did not lift a finger on his own behalf. allowed himself to be nominated and allowed himself to be elected. one thing, he didn't give any speeches. he wrote his acceptance of the nomination and the one line in that message that caught the attention of the country was let us have peace. this was something that you electrified the south as well as the no.. in the period -- and battlefields of a different kind. congress was warring against the executive. who would govern? another question was who would govern in the south?
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would republican regime imposed upon the south by union troops, would they governed, will would the pre-war majority govern in the south? grant became something of a sympathetic figure. he was a good union general. he was the one who granted generous surrender terms to we's troops in appomattox believing upon the war's end they had to get back to the south which was starring as a result of the war and in no small part because of grant's strategy in places like georgia the south was starving. 11 take their horses to go back and plow their fields and treating them once again as fellow americans rather than rebels. when his troops began to cheer about the surrender he told them to be quiet. these are our country men now so grant became the sympathetic
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general. chairman remained the devil incarnate until the end of his days so grant became a unifying figure and i could elaborate on this a little more. [laughter] >> not that i am trying to insert myself in your conversation but i really want to ask you to talk about grant as just a guy because he was the most unlikely political material to become president of the united states. he talked about his knees knocking when he had to give a speech. how did it happen that this guy who was so non demonstrative, i believe you would be presented very credibly, powerful and important president of the united states. >> grant was the most unassuming
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person, most unassuming major historical person i have come across. his modesty persisted until the very end. i begin my story at the end of grant's life when he is composing his memoir. grand for a long time resisted writing his memoirs. he thought after the fact monday morning quarterbacking was better left to other people. as soon as the war ended officers on both sides began apologizing for their mistakes and aggrandizing their success. grant stayed out until the end and the only reason he took up the can was he had been swindled by gilded age equivalent of bernie madoff and he was broke and was going to leave his wife broke and needed to make some money. the got connected with mark twain who recognized that a grant memoir would be a huge best seller is indeed it was. while he was writing the memoir
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he discovered he was dying of cancer and so the nation watched as grant was in this race for his life and it was unclear whether grant wood finish writing the story of his life before he finished his actual life. but as he was in the final stages of both writing a memoir and dying of cancer he wrote some notes to himself and one of the notes that he writes, this is grant at the age of 65 -- 63. he knows he is dying and he has been the commanding general, the only general to have the rank george washington held in the revolutionary war since then. he might well have been one of the most famous people on earth.
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he took world for after he left the white house and everywhere he went crowds turned out to see this great american hero but he writes just weeks before he dies i never thought of acquiring rank in the profession i was educated for, namely the military. yet it came with two grades higher prefix to the rank of general officer for me. i certainly never had either ambition or taste for political life, yet are was twice president of the united states. one of the striking things to me on writing this story was observing how grant did and mostly did not change personally as he became this world historical figure. when the civil war began, grant was living in illinois. one thing after another had failed for him. he failed as a farmer and failed
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in selling real estate and failed selling insurance. he finally had to fall back on longstanding offer from his father who really thought ulysses grant had very few gifts at all. and he went to work for his younger brother in the family leather store. he was full the resigned to life of mediocrity. if the war had not come, the world never would have heard of ulysses grant. he was not one who had any burning ambition. if he had not been essentially handed the presidency, it never would have occurred to him to seek it. he did not have that proverbial fire in the belly presidential candidates these days are almost
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required to have and despite the fact that by the war's end he realized he was pretty good at this general stuff, he never thought that particularly qualified him to the president. if the people through the democratic process would summon him to the presidency he would answer that call the way he had always answered the call of his military superiors. >> i want to open up questions in just a second but one of their thing i wanted to ask. you teach american history. you taught american history for a long time. you know that bill knows everything before he sits down to write a book because he has taught it for so long but i am very curious, was there one giant surprise about grant when
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you were putting the book together? something you didn't know or didn't expect? >> i won't say there was a giant surprise. there was an abiding question that drove me to write the book. is a question i don't exactly have an answer to. i have answers to it but not a single answer. it is a question that is broader than grant, as broad as when you reader the question is as broad as this. it is very simple. why is there war? every society has a war. i never encountered in my study of history or reading of anthropology encounter a society where war was not not really something that happened but a really big deal in society. there's something about humans' that inclines us towards war. my question i am posing to my history classes is why is this
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so? it strikes me as paradoxical. there are relatively few societies. i don't know of many societies today that say war is a really good thing. if we agree that war is a great thing, this question of why is there war would not require much of an answer. if we ask why is there sex, most people think sex is a good idea. you don't have to ask that question but with war most people think war is a really bad thing. why does it happen so often? with my students we work our way through to two basic answers to the question. they seem diametrically opposed and in some ways they are but they are not entirely on complementary. one answer and the answer favored by most of us because by most people in the united states i can point out one conspicuous exception if you want to hear it, most people would say that work is when things go wrong and
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if you want to explain why there is war you need to explain various things that can go wrong. things can go wrong because there is misunderstanding about nations. if you look at the run of 2 world war i the austrian archduke got assassinated. then ultimatum's went back and forth and if someone made a slightly different decision the war might not have happened and war is the result of bad characters. unusual people like adolf hitler. hitler's megalomania was responsible for world war ii. this is a comforting explanation because it allows us to say that either war is because of a few bad guys and if we watch out for them and keep their hands off the reins of power we will be ok or if it is because of misunderstanding let's all get to know each other better and there won't be a war.
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the other possibility is that war is not when things go wrong but when things go right. there is something positively attractive about war. this might touch a part of our characters we are not particularly happy about, that we don't want to acknowledge but one of the reasons i wrote about grant, he was one, william sherman was another, the union side was another and robert e. lee on the confederate side. these were people who were really good at work and they were good and a technical sense. they knew how to arrange battles but they were also good, i will use the word a moral sense. you might when i explain, you might question whether that is the right word. grant's great gift for war was twofold and this is something he didn't know anything about until he got in the thick of things in the civil war.
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he could envision a battlefield better than almost anybody. one of the primary problems of military command during the civil war, less so now we have satellites and aircraft that oversee everything but the hardest part was figuring out what the battlefield look like, where the troops were and how to approach each other. grant had a gift, and don't know where it came from. some people have a spatial imagination that is better than others. the other aspect, i will call it the moral part, grant had the ability to do something that the five commanders of union forces that precede him did not have. he had the ability to give the order to go into battle. that might sound like an oversimplification but george mcclellan, probably the best known grant predecessor was as good as grant was at preparing for that and even more beloved
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of his troops than grant was and mcclellan didn't have the nerve. he didn't have, maybe you could call it the brutality to give the order for battle when he knew, before the battle ended thousands of those young men he was speaking to would be dead. >> i won't salmons exactly surprised but i was struck by this because this freight that i found that once admirable and appalling, admirable because if there is a war, you need to have somebody to do that but appalling in that it requires us to do something we are taught at a very early age we must not do, that is to elevate the end above the means. that is what winning a war is all about. the means are dirty, the means are brutal, the means include
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the death of all sorts of people who didn't do anything to bring on this war but if you believe in the end and you have that steel character that grant had, lincoln had it too although he wasn't -- didn't give the order the night before but if you have that, then you can send the troops into battle and your side will win. this is what i was saying earlier. war clarifies for grand an end of the war, holding the union together at after the emancipation proclamation freeing the slaves. this justify almost any thing required to achieve it. one could say that is a tough calculus to make because how can you measure political union against 600,000 lives. grant had a more practical take on this, and that was he believed -- lincoln fully believed if there were two nations in the middle of the
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north american continent, this war would not be the last. they said the reason the united states had not been written by the wars that affected europe for centuries was there was a single country. once there are two countries in north america, they will go at it again so this war would not be the last and in the long run even 600,000 lives, this might be a bargaining human suffering. >> questions from the audience? we will start over here. [inaudible] >> is there a microphone he could use? i am sorry. >> is the microphone working? good deal. we are all talking, we were
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wondering when you were going to get to the part about what we all believe in the southern part of the united states, how he was a drunk and a corrupt politician. you are contradicting much of that. you came to different conclusions, did you? >> i did the. i will give you grant's reputation. for years he was a drunk and a butcher and his administration was one of the most corrupt in american history. historians rating presidents until the beginning of this century have put grant in the bottom 2 or 3, he is down there with james buchanan. james buchanan and grant and one or two others. grant's reputation for drinking has been exaggerated. grant didn't have so much a drinking problem as he had a problem of holding his liquor.
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no, no. the distinction is not unimportant because grand in essence drank himself out of the army in the 1850s but the reason he drank himself out of the army in the 1850s was he was stationed 1,000 miles from his wife and children, the younger of whom he had never seen. he was stationed on the dreary northwest coast of the united states and coming from the northwest i can tell you if you are not from their, their is a strong tendency to depression, even suicide during the winter months. the sun goes away on the first of october and it might come out by the first of the following july but the last of the thing was grand was in a drinking culture. army officers in those days were expected to drink like gentlemen which meant they were expected to drink a lot and not show the
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effects. grant's voice would start to slur when he had one drink. he would start to wobble when he would have two and he was a sorry excuse for an officer in this culture combined with the fact that he wanted to get out of the military anyway. he resigned rather than be brought up on charges of dereliction about drinking. that was the reputation that grant acquired in the army. the army between the war with mexico and the civil war was a small club and so grant drank himself out of the army. no one would have thought anything of it except that when the civil war began grant vaulted over dozens of officers senior to himself who took delight in spreading stories of grant's drinking. i tracked accounts of grant's
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drinking to the extent that i could and discovered on two occasions during the civil war he got drunk to the extent that he got drunk and went to bed and slept off and look up the next morning. he never got drunk at a time when being drunk impaired his ability to perform his responsibilities. he got drunk once during the siege of vicksburg when nothing was happening. he never got drunk when he was president. this is a story that has stuck with him in part because it is a label. you can put on somebody and it is hard to disprove. the part about grand being a butcher is something that even occurred to some of grant's fans during the civil war, the civil
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war shocked american sensibilities win the war began. no one understood how big the conflict was going to become. how many people would die and the maimed, that grant was involved in those casualties. grant was the foremost of the union generals who is willing to fight. this is why lincoln promoted grant. grant's approach to work was you hit the enemy fast and you hit the enemy again and again. grant was one who was going to take the fight to the enemy's though not surprising given the fact that the forces he was fighting against were always entrenched behind the offensive lines, that meant he was going to suffer more casualties than
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the other side but on a proportional basis grant's casualties were lower than the casualties of lee and related to this was a calculation. you can consider this cold blooded but it was cold-blooded. grant realized by the end game, the virginia campaign of 1864-1865 he understood the fundamental arithmetic of the war. every casualty that cost grant a soldier could be replaced. every casualty that cost lee a soldier could not be replaced. we fight, we fight and eventually lee runs out of fighters. grant's corruption in office, not even in grant's they no one accused him of anything but up right integrity. they did accuse him of being a bit too loyal to people who took advantage of their high office but there's a great deal of exaggeration that goes on. the gilded age has been known as
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the age of corruption in american politics. the scandal of the era, in all the textbooks cited again and again, scandals that surrounded the transcontinental railroad. members of congress were part of an inside game funneling money from the federal government channeled through the campus -- construction co. into their pocket and dozens if not hundreds of people were involved and millions of dollars were built. the second big scandal was the scandal involving the tweed ring in new york. they had hundreds of millions in the construction projects in new york. when people talk about corruption scandals of the gilded age those of the two that stand out neither of which had anything to do with ulysses grant. his administration did have scandals, no question about that. these are pretty small compared
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to the big ones. the essential problem grant faced was the early history of the grant administration were written by his enemies. you might think it is said again and again that the victors write the history. they did not write the history of the civil war. the losers, the lost cause of the south and southerners had no stake in grant's reputation but the other thing was half the republican party failed on grant. the republican party originally consisted of two wings, the anti slavery wing and the pro-business wing and the two wings worked well enough together during the civil war but after the civil war ended and slavery was gone it was a corporate wing of the republican party that took over and the corporate wing wanted nothing to do with free men in the south and nothing to do with civil rights. grant was the last of the lincoln republicans. one point i make is grant was the last